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Of Japanese Toilets and Greek Breakfasts

by on June 17, 2015 6:15 AM

I've never been to Japan but I may have to go, if only to experience Japanese toilets.

I have this on good authority from friends recently returned from Japan.

They apparently had many fine experiences on their trip, but what they talked about most, or at least what I remember them talking about most, were the wonders of the bathroom in their hotel.

Not since their mothers changed their diapers had their nether parts, as my friends delicately called them, received such loving care.

The larger point I wish to make via my invocation of Japanese toilets is this: There are many Americans who believe, or in the case of politicians, profess to believe, that everything's better in the USA.

Such views have a profound impact on American foreign policy. Assuming that we ARE the best, we believe that we KNOW best -- about everything.

This leads us to try to refashion other countries in our own image, and to deny the possibility that other countries might have a thing or two to teach us.

Inform the super patriots that there are places in the world that have free healthcare and free higher education and they'll say maybe, but it isn't as good, or there aren't as many choices. And in any case, those folks don't have our freedom.

I'm not smart enough to discuss the relative merits of healthcare or higher education or taxation systems around the world so let's talk about hotel breakfasts, a subject on which I have done extensive research.

I've been in Greece for the past two weeks and I can report that whatever you've been hearing about the dire state of the Greek economy, Greek hotel breakfasts are completely fabulous. At a $60-a-night hostelry I stayed in recently, the complementary breakfast included multiple kinds of bread, pastry and cheese, olives, cukes and tomatoes, and fruit, nuts and yogurt -- all of it excellent.

Our super patriot would probably say, ugh, who wants olives for breakfast? Let me assure this straw man that eggs, bacon, potatoes, cereal and milk were also available.

The funny part about these early-morning feasts is that according to my sources, this is not at all how the Greeks themselves eat. Give them a demi-tasse of muddy coffee and maybe a crust of bread and they're good to go. The big meal here, as in much of Europe, is lunch. Supper is lighter and later.

The Greeks may think they're giving us tourists the kind of breakfasts to which we are accustomed, but they've obviously never had the frozen mini-muffins and toaster waffles on offer at your typical exit-ramp motel along America's interstate highway grid.

Or take public transportation. American trains and buses vs. the rest of the developed world? No contest.

I could go on in this vein. Our super patriot would probably say, if Greece is so great, why don't I stay there?

If the Greeks ever upgrade their toilets to the Japanese standard, I'll consider it. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to take a swim in the Aegean so I can work up an appetite for tomorrow's breakfast.


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A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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